Kalina Stormer: “Recognize the strengths your sensitivity has gifted you”

The main myth that I want to bust is that HSPs are weak and unable to cope in today’s society and workforce. NOPE! I’m here to say that’s not the case at all. You can absolutely thrive as a Highly Sensitive Person and be a productive, engaging, highly functioning member of society — all while honoring your […]

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The main myth that I want to bust is that HSPs are weak and unable to cope in today’s society and workforce. NOPE! I’m here to say that’s not the case at all. You can absolutely thrive as a Highly Sensitive Person and be a productive, engaging, highly functioning member of society — all while honoring your gifts and respecting your sensitivity.

As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kalina Stormer, a small business owner, podcaster, and cheerleader for women going after their dreams. Kalina knows first-hand how being an entrepreneur can throw you right into the fire, forcing you to learn, grow, and adapt right on your feet. One of the topics she is especially passionate about reflects her own experience as a Highly Sensitive Person — something that can be challenging while running a customer-facing business. She currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and growing family.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?

Thank you so much for having me!

I’ve certainly never been one to follow the straight and narrow, and that is ever so apparent in my multi-passionate career path. After graduating from college with a degree in Animal Science, I jumped into the restaurant industry and retail work for some quick, post-graduate money. I was always picking up marketing work on the side, and eventually started a blog which led me to a PR position. After that, I found myself back in retail until I decided it was finally time to start my own business. This led to my husband and I co-founding specialty dog boutique Hunter & June.

Through my journey with entrepreneurship, I learned so much about myself and how to grow a business. In the midst of the pandemic, I saw a need and desire for others to learn the tools I was learning, so I launched my very first podcast to share what I knew. I started the show to help women in the entrepreneurial world grow their businesses and themselves to new heights through both marketing and mindset.

My husband and I live in beautiful Nashville, Tennessee with our daughter and a baby boy on the way! I’m a 3 on the Enneagram and a proud HSP (Highly Sensitive Person). I love reading, hiking, and any time spent in nature — I find it so healing and grounding! I’m also obsessed with England and can’t wait to visit there again once travel is more feasible.

Thank you for your bravery and strength in being so open with us. I understand how hard this is. Can you help define for our readers what is meant by a Highly Sensitive Person? Does it simply mean that feelings are easily hurt or offended?

I can certainly see how someone might think that’s what a Highly Sensitive Person is at first. However, it goes so much deeper than that and I’m really excited for the opportunity to shed some light on this. Generally speaking, a Highly Sensitive Person experiences more intense responses to stimuli, be those physical, mental, or emotional. It can manifest in different ways for different people. Some examples of how it can present include feeling both positive and survival emotions more deeply than others, being sensitive to strong sensory output (such as loud noises and bright lights), and being highly empathetic.

Speaking to my own experience as a Highly Sensitive Person, I describe it as feeling things deeper than others may feel. So it can mean that my feelings can be hurt and I can be sensitive in that regard, but it also means I can also feel overwhelming joy, excitement, and other positive emotions. It also makes me highly sensitive to and affected by the feelings of others.

Does a Highly Sensitive Person have a higher degree of empathy towards others? Is a Highly Sensitive Person offended by hurtful remarks made about other people?

Many HSPs do experience a high degree of empathy. Speaking from personal experience, I’m very empathetic and can take on the feelings of others. As for the second part of your question, I think it depends on the person — empathy can manifest in many different ways and could show up as feeling offended for another.

Does a Highly Sensitive Person have greater difficulty with certain parts of popular culture, entertainment or news, that depict emotional or physical pain? Can you explain or give a story?

This is a resounding yes for me. Mostly I experience difficulty with the news — seeing all the pain in the world, disasters, wars, people being hurt and killed, division and hatred between political parties — it deeply shakes me and can put me in a funk that’s hard to get out of. I can often keep looping images of what I’ve seen or heard in my mind for hours afterward. I had to delete the Apple News app from my phone so that it wasn’t something I would accidentally see during the day. And while I understand it’s important to stay informed, I had to set boundaries so that I could look for the information I needed in a timely manner while still protecting my mental health.

Can you please share a story about how your highly sensitive nature created problems at work or socially?

Yes, absolutely. This is a question I love to dig into because I used to think there was something wrong with me that was hindering my professional performance. Now that I realize that I simply process information differently from others, it’s given me the licensing to own my sensitivity and use it as a strength. But before that, it certainly presented as a “problem.”

Being a small business owner of a retail store threw me and my sensitive side into the deep end, so to speak. The hardest hurdle to overcome was dealing with angry or difficult customers in an effective way while also protecting my own energy. I held so much fear around someone getting upset with the business that I literally held us back from growing (subconsciously, of course — but I realized it later). I was playing small because I was so afraid of bumping into an angry or difficult customer and how that would make me feel. In the past when I dealt with an unhappy customer, it affected me so deeply that I would shake, sweat, and go into an anxiety spiral. Not only was I taking on the customer’s emotions, but I was also dealing with my own feelings of being hurt and protective of the business that I built with my blood, sweat, and tears. Eventually, I learned coping tools that helped tremendously (I’ll talk about those later!) as well as owning that my sensitivity is not a weakness, but a difference. Both the coping tools and owning this aspect of myself helped me grow so much professionally and move past this “problem” with more grace, both towards others and myself.

When did you suspect that your level of sensitivity was above the societal norm? How did you come to see yourself as “too sensitive”?

I think the first time I realized it was in elementary school. I remember that when I would get in trouble for something, even something minor, I felt it so deeply that it almost physically hurt. I have vivid memories of watching the kids around me bounce back and play almost immediately after they’d been admonished, whereas when I got in trouble I would sit and be nearly overwhelmed by my feelings literally until the end of the day. I recognized that I was different from the other kids who could just jump back in instead of feeling through everything — and I began to believe there was something very much wrong with me because I was different.

I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?

Yes, I love this question! I think many Highly Sensitive People believe (from messages unknowingly passed down in our childhood and within our societal structure) that our sensitivity is a weakness — which couldn’t be further from the truth! It has enormous advantages. Some of these can include high levels of creativity and imagination, strong intuition and perception, kindness, and deep empathy. Highly Sensitive People often make great leaders because they are so attuned to their team’s feelings and needs. I also believe they make excellent entrepreneurs due to their creativity and intuition.

Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was actually an advantage?

I’ve always been highly creative, and I don’t know that I would’ve had the vision or creative impulses to start my own business without my sensitivity. It’s also helped me deeply connect to our customers, which has, in turn, created huge fans of our business. People who come shop with us know that they’re getting the best service because I can empathize with them, connect with them, and truly see to it that they have the ideal experience with our shop. We have customers who send friends all the time because of the great experiences that they have! I truly equate this to my sensitivity and ability to make every person who comes into our shop feel special, seen, and understood.

There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?

I think we draw the line when our empathy encroaches on our boundaries. As Highly Sensitive People, it is crucial that we set firm boundaries (and then the tricky part, stick to them!). It’s an amazing and beautiful thing to be highly empathetic. However, make sure that you have boundaries in place to protect your own energy. If you feel that you’re taking on too much of another’s emotions in a way that is negatively impacting you, it’s time to uphold that boundary. Utilize coping tools or limit your interaction with that person until you’re able to feel more protected in your own energy without taking on too much from the other person.

Social Media can often be casually callous. How does Social Media affect a Highly Sensitive Person? How can a Highly Sensitive Person utilize the benefits of social media without being pulled down by it?

Social media is a double-edged sword. It’s a place of beautiful and meaningful connection, but also a space for behind-the-screen bullying and negativity. I firmly believe that Highly Sensitive People can reap the incredible benefits of social media while also protecting themselves and not allowing it to drag them down. I suggest doing this by again, holding firm boundaries. Follow accounts that inspire you. Find other people who also identify as highly sensitive and connect with them. Then on the flip side, you have complete licensing to mute, restrict, or unfollow any accounts that drag you down, or even friends that constantly highlight negative news or painful things that trigger your sensitivity. For example, I muted several of my friends during the election — there’s no shame in that game! I still love them dearly and can unmute them at any time, but I was able to protect my own sensitive energy during a highly emotional few months.

How would you respond if something you hear or see bothers or affects you, but others comment that you are being petty or that it is minor?

I think this is a prime example of where we can utilize our empathetic nature in real-time. You can empathize with someone commenting that this is something minor or petty, understanding that they don’t see the world as you do — they simply can’t! They have their own life experiences, their own genetic makeup, their own stories, that shape the way they see things.

You could say something along the lines of, “I can see that this seems petty or minor to you. I’m sure there are things that bother you that I wouldn’t understand or that would seem small to me. But I want to be honest and share that this issue really is affecting me — sometimes I feel things very deeply, even if you might not perceive it the same way.”

If they’re still not able to hold space for you after a conversation like this, consider that in the future maybe this isn’t the best person to come to whenever you’re needing a safe space to unload and process your feelings. We all have people in our lives that are incredible sounding boards, as well as people who we know aren’t the best to go to during these times. Becoming mindful of this will help you avoid bumping into this situation in the future.

What strategies do you use to overcome the perception that others may have of you as overly sensitive without changing your caring and empathetic nature?

There are a few strategies I can highlight here. My first suggestion is to inform — someone might not really understand what it means to be a Highly Sensitive Person, or how it manifests in you. Having an open, honest, and vulnerable conversation with someone can clear up a lot of misconceptions. Another strategy is to simply understand that not everyone will understand you. This can be a tough pill for us HSPs to swallow because many of us have a tendency to people-please and can often feel misunderstood in general because of our deep feelings. But, when you recognize that how someone feels towards you and reacts towards you usually is more a reflection of their own life experience and the lens through which they see the world, it can help take some of the pressure off of you. And lastly, really look at where you might’ve learned that being sensitive is “bad.” Was it something picked up from childhood? (Hint: it usually is.) Release the shame you might have around being sensitive and it will allow you to show up as your caring, empathetic, and authentic self without as much worry about how others perceive you.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?

The main myth that I want to bust is that HSPs are weak and unable to cope in today’s society and workforce. NOPE! I’m here to say that’s not the case at all. You can absolutely thrive as a Highly Sensitive Person and be a productive, engaging, highly functioning member of society — all while honoring your gifts and respecting your sensitivity.

As you know, one of the challenges of being a Highly Sensitive Person is the harmful, and dismissive sentiment of “why can’t you just stop being so sensitive?” What do you think needs to be done to make it obvious that it just doesn’t work that way?

I think having conversations just like this is exactly what needs to be done to heal negative perceptions and the dismissal of HSPs! For me, recognizing that I was highly sensitive helped me heal the idea that I needed to shove down my sensitivity and just “get over it.” Now, I’m able to speak to others about what it means to be highly sensitive and as more and more people learn about this unique and special gift, we will see shifts in how our society both perceives and treats us. In addition to this, I believe that raising children to embrace their sensitive natures will be extremely healing. If we start them young and prevent the deep shame around being “too sensitive,” we will help reduce judgment and help sensitive kids shine in their authenticity.

Ok, here is the main question for our discussion. Can you share with us your “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person? Please give a story or an example for each.

Alright yes, let’s get into it! I’ll speak to my own experience and five different mindset shifts and tools that I’ve personally used to help me.

1 . Look into where you might’ve picked up that your sensitivity is “bad.” Do you have any shame around being sensitive? Were you told you “toughen up” or “get over it” frequently as a child? Really lean into this. Many times as children we’re told messages by well-meaning adults that present our sensitivities as “weak” or “bad,” which is far from the truth! And remember, this exercise is not to judge or blame the adults who unknowingly passed these messages on, but to simply recognize them for what they are: stories that are no longer serving you.
Once you have identified who you heard these messages from, recognize that this is THEIR story, not yours. You can rewrite a more empowering story for yourself, one that supports your sensitivity as a strength, not a weakness. And when those messages start to creep back in (which they will!) or you feel you judging yourself for your sensitivity, you can take a deep breath, recognize that’s an old pattern looping based on someone else’s story, and choose to move back into your new, more empowering truth.

2 . Recognize the strengths your sensitivity has gifted you. Maybe it’s that you’re very in tune with the feelings of others, incredibly creative, or can easily read a room. However, your sensitivity shows up for you, recognize that it gives you strength rather than hinders you! So often we focus on what we have to overcome and the hardships of living in a world that isn’t as understanding of sensitive people — but by focusing on where it actually makes us stronger, we shift the narrative and take our power back.

3 . Use visualizations to help you set energetic boundaries with others. This is one of my favorite tools from my HSP tool kit when I’m feeling overwhelmed. There are three visualization exercises I personally use, especially when I’ve had an interaction with someone difficult.

  • Visualize yourself energetically cutting cords with someone whose energy feels negative or overwhelming to you. I literally visualize myself taking scissors or shears and cutting an energetic cord between myself and the person, especially after a negative interaction that I’m having a hard time moving on from. The relief I feel is almost always immediate, so this one is one of my first go-to’s. I’ve used this one several times after dealing with difficult customers in our shop.
  • Visualize the person affecting you as if they were a child. Many times, when someone is showing us strong emotions, it’s coming from hurt stemming all the way to their childhoods. When you can visualize them as their child self reacting in the way that they did, it helps you feel more compassion and understanding towards their behavior. This visualization also helps you play into your empathetic strength as an HSP.
  • Visualize yourself surrounded in a strong, protective, steady white light. Then do the same for the person affecting you — surround them in their own bubble of white light. Send yourself love, and then send them the same.

4. Realize that another person’s behavior towards you most likely has nothing to do with you. As HSPs, we can tend to take on the feelings of others, or feel very deeply when a strong, negative emotion is directed towards us. I felt this a lot in my retail store — when someone felt angry or disappointed, I took that on and it would really rattle me. I started this exercise where I would think about that person — realizing that they have their own life experiences, their own trauma, their own issues — that might’ve led them to react this way.
A person’s reaction to a situation most likely has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them. Now, this isn’t an accountability cop-out; it’s important to still see where you need to take ownership. But instead of taking on someone’s behavior and internalizing it into being highly critical of yourself, you can use this perspective shift. They are reacting based on how they see the world and what they’ve experienced — and it is NOT a personal reflection of you. This realization gave me so much of my power back.

5. Know that you are not alone in feeling the way you do. Learning this was a game-changer for me. So often, I think we as HSPs can think that we’re deeply different from everyone else, especially if we didn’t grow up seeing sensitivity modeled to us in a healthy way by our family, peers, and community. Overall, about 15 to 20 percent of the population are thought to be highly sensitive. Although still in the minority, learning that so many others share this personality trait gave me so much hope and encouragement!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

When we empower women we empower the world. I love that women, who are such incredible and powerful creators, can take matters into their own hands by building their own businesses. Giving women support, inspiration, and licensing to go after their dreams and goals in business gets me fired up, and I believe empowered women can, have, and will continue to change so much in our world.

How can our readers follow you online?

The best places to find me are at my website kalinastormer.com, Instagram at @kalinastormer, and via my podcast Small But Mighty: A Business Podcast for Mindful Entrepreneurs.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Thank you! I’m truly so grateful to have had this opportunity to speak to this, and I appreciate this community and all you’re doing!

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